Monday, April 30, 2007

JIB Awards, Take 2

The JIB (Jewish and Israeli Blogging) awards continue. The first round of voting is over, and the second round begins.

In the first round, I lost in all categories. This is due to a combination of the fact that a large majority of my posts and readers are not Jewish/Israelis, while I was competing against very good and very popular sites that were entirely so.

Or perhaps due to the large scale voting fraud and hacking that the awards endured. Considering that the awards have generated almost no press, and the winners receive no cash, one wonders why these miscreants bothered.

Anyway, the second round of voting is for individual posts. I noticed a couple of minor problems with the way the voting procedure works, but, again, considering the stakes and the fact that this is all done by volunteers, I'm not going to raise a fuss.

I'm up for Best Post (twice), Best Jewish Religious Post (twice), Best Humor Post (twice), Best Right Wing Post, and Best Picture or Video in a Post (twice).

I found a number of very good posts among those nominated, which I would like to share with you. These represent some of the Jewish and Israeli bloggers' best work over the past year, and are worth a looksee.

The always amazing Treppenwitz tells the story from his Navy days of how to get a proper surrender.

SerandErez contemplates that Pobody ever needs to be Nerfect. And has a bit of a surreal hitchhiking experience.

Westbankblog brings an American perspective to learning how to use a gun in On Holocaust Remembrance Day, M16's, and a New Respect for Veterans.

The Curious Jew writes some heartfelt words about Jews who go Off the Derech.

Ask Shifra posts an amazing tale of childhood disappointment in Nothing Special. She also introduces into the Jewish lexicon the term "Hot Chanie" in this marvelous post.

EllieTalk remembers the day she was told her husband had died, and reflects on her new husband dealing with it.

Frum Satire thought an entire singles shabbaton was hilarious.

The Muqata's pre-shabbat gender role division sounds vaguely familiar to me.

The disgraceful episode on the #2 bus, where a woman was attacked for not sitting in the back, is reposted here.


300: A History of Spartan Board Games

Popular not only in literature and myth, the battle at Thermopylae has given rise to a number of board and card games over the last 40 years. Naturally, interest in these games has waxed surrounding the release of the stylized gore-fest known as 300. Here is a list of fourteen of these games.

By the way, games actually played by the Spartans include competitive physical activities, as well as knucklebones, jacks, dice games, and checkers games.

And by the way, Spartanopoly is not about Sparta (it's Michigan State University). Let's move on.

(images are linked to their sources)

Thermopylae (1973)
Designed by Martin E Sliva (or maybe Silva)
An early war game.
Spartan (1975)
Designed by John Young
An early tactical war game, came as one of five games included in "PRESTAGS" by SPI games. SPI was run by Greg Costikyan, I believe.
The Peloponnesian War (1977)
Designed and produced by Stephen Newberg
A two-player strategy war game.
Peloponnesian War (1991)
Designed by Mark Herman
Published by Victory Games. A game with extensive rules for solo play which required you to switch sides whenever you were winning. The rules are apparently on their third edition.
Get Sparta (1994)
Designed by Phil Steele
A 2-player tactical war game.
Thermopylae (1999)
Written by Lloyd Krasner
A simple freely-downloadable tactical card game.
Xenophon: 10,000 Against Persia (2000)
Designed by Joseph Miranda
An insert in issue #203 of Strategy & Tactics. A strategic war game.
300 Spartans (2003)
A 1:72nd scale strategy war game published by a Russian publisher.
Go Tell the Spartans (2003)
Designed by Robert G. Markham and Steve Rawling
An insert in issue #6 of Against the Odds. A solitaire game.
Thermopylae Online (2006)
Designed by Ryan S. Johnson
Published by Guild of Blades. Can be downloaded or played online.
The Epic of the Peloponnesian War (2006)
Designed by Kurt Kuhlmann and Jonathan Iwamasa
Published by Clash of Arms Games. A long strategy war game for 2 to 4 players.
Commands & Colors Ancients: Expansion Pack 1: Greeks and Eastern Kingdoms (2006)
Designed by Richard Borg
The first expansion to the currently highly popular Command & Colors: Ancents light war game includes a few scenarios, including Sparta.
Hellenes: Athens vs. Sparta
Designed by Craig Besinque
Also known as "Hellas". Designed to fit into the Columbia block game system, but was too large a game for their line. Now awaiting publication by GMT games under their P500 pre-order system.
300: The Board Game
Designed by Andrew Parks.
A card and dice driven tactical game based on the movie. Scheduled to be released in May, 2007.
Naturally, the topic is also covered by video games. Frankly, I thought the movie looked like the opening sequence of one of my son's video games.


Sunday, April 29, 2007


I think that when I say I don't understand, I mean I don't accept.

You're always doing something differently than what I would expect or want. I don't understand.

I have to change to understand. Change is hard. You don't expect me to change or even want me to change. But I will never understand until I do.

Help me to understand.


Also on eBay: Lessons from a Bridge Master

$750 will get you a day's worth of lessons from a "leading expert" at an East Coast tournament. The expert's name is not specified.

Helena Kling writes to tell me that the dice in the Cribbage board are "poker dice", five dice with sides 9 through Ace. The object of the game is to roll the best hand (after two or three throws, I guess).

Humps and Horns is a rodeo board game that is also looking to sell it's own license. Price: $250,000 . "Humps and Horns" is a trademark, and apparently also a commonly used phrase in the cattle community.

The uberGeek comic strip User Friendly published a board game over the past three weeks: board, pieces, and rules.

A Salon writer describes an interesting variation on Clue that she used to play as a kid, where the object was to perpetrate, rather than solve, the murder.


April Gaming at the JSGC

We played the following games at the Jerusalem Strategy Gaming Club during April. As usual, this doesn't include additional games I played outside the club. It includes Games Day during Passover.

I believe that the club is looking to do a major game swap sometimes soon, as we seem to be bored of most of the games. Note the increase in the proportion of card games played.

24/7 - Sorry, Sunriver. Good for 10-12 year olds. Not enough to hold our interest.

Amun-Re - Still liked a lot.

Bridge x 4 - Played with more frequency as other games move out of favor.

Carcassonne - My brother left this with me as he would like to sell or trade it.

Carcassonne: the City - Tried and not very successfully. I should be receiving my own copy of this some day, and I expect to take a deeper look at it.

Caylus x 2 - I can enjoy this two-player, but no more than that. Others still like it a lot.

Chess x 2 - Played on Games Day with some non-gamers.

Cosmic Encounter - Loved by some, but too much for others.

Die Macher x 2 - Two half-games, actually. The Long Game gets its due, and we hope to finish the second-half of the game sometime soon, as we saved the game state. Actually enjoying it more now than my first play in Dallas at the first BGG.con. Still would be nice to play a five round variant, however.

El Grande - Enjoyed by most.

Geschenkt - A nice filler, but too quick for anything else.

Lord of the Rings: the Confrontation - Another filler, this one for two people only.

Lost Cities - Too simple for us. For trade or for sale, played a few times.

Mau - The card game I loathe, but enjoyed by a few.

Nautilus - Universally considered blah. Pretty pieces just go to show that pretty pieces do not an exciting game make.

Netrunner - I am still just beginning on this, but my two opponents so far are wary of the game's flaws.

Power Grid x 2 - Still highly requested and enjoyed, but we need a break from it.

Princes of Florence - Still enjoyed very much.

San Juan x 2 - Not exactly a laugh a minute, but a medium-length diversion.

Santiago - I still love it, while others are willing but not overly excited by it.

Settlers of Catan - Enjoyed by the new players and me, but so much by the veterans.

Shogi - Adam played this with a non-gamer on Games Day. I'd like to try it.

Tichu x2 - Played with more frequency as other games move out of favor.

Vulkan - Played once, and was a quick and simple diversionary game/puzzle.

World of Warcraft - An eight-hour slug-fest on Games Day, and the game still didn't end, but the players had a great time. Keep it away from me.

Zertz - A nice filler abstract from Gipf.


Paradice: Art as a Game

Thought Jugglers

I received an email from Michael Sklaar, president of Thought Juggler. Thought Juggler appears to be a company that does in-house gaming combined with selling games, kind of like what SimplyFun does. In contrast to SimplyFun, I don't think Thought Juggler sells their own games; I couldn't figure out which games they sell.


Anyway, Michael sent me a link to See Through Games, whose game is called Paradice by John O'Neill (BGG).

From the theme, the rules, and the beautiful components, it is obvious that this game is focused very deliberately as being art through the medium of a game. Your job is to either waste the forests and deactivate the forest spirits, or to bring the humans together, literally and figuratively, eye-to-eye. But your roles may reverse at any time, in which case you may suddenly find yourself winning from a formerly losing position.

As far as the game itself goes, there are some mixed reviews on BGG (mostly negative, I'm afraid), and the game is selling for $189 through eBay, which seems kind of excessive even for pretty components. Still, there are other games in the world selling at that price point, usually those aimed at the business market crowd (e.g. Cashflow 101).


Saarya and I got in a game of Zertz after shabbat ended. It was a nice game.

I became concerned as the game began that there might be a readily understood "perfect" play for Zertz, wherein both sides simply avoid any jump opportunities until one person wins the game by virtue of placing the last ball. This is because any move that is good for you is really, in fact, better for your opponent. Therefore, you have to do the least damage on every move.

However, owing to the fact that the last player wins by placing the last ball, somebody has to disrupt this stalemate by sacrificing one of the less desirable balls early on in favor of disrupting this type of play. I think that if such perfect play exists, at least it is probably not going to be readily discerned.

In our game, we made a lot of cautious plays for a while. Eventually, I saw the opportunity to give away a white ball in exchange for isolating two balls, a white and a black, off a corner.

We exchanged another ball here and there, until I figured out a way to give away one ball in exchange for a four ball gain, again through isolation. I thought the game was in the bag for me.

Unfortunately, I left a board where Saarya could take two more white balls while giving me more balls that I didn't really need. Naturally, I hadn't seen that coming, and as a result, Saarya ended up winning.


Friday, April 27, 2007

Dirty Soles, Communists, and Ball Busters

For some reason, the organization of people who enjoy walking around barefoot refer to themselves as "Dirty Soles". Ever since, they've had to disclaim that their organization is not fetishistic, but naturalistic.

Purposely naughty? Or just a bad choice of name?

In Israel there is a small window of opportunity in the big cities for barefoot walking, between the cold of winter and the heat of summer. It's already almost too late, but I managed a barefoot walk today to the bakery and back. It was my first (and probably only) time this season.

The first time is the hardest, when your feet tenderly feel every pebble and burr in your path, and aren't accustomed to the gradually baking sidewalks. Each time you reach a bit of shady sidewalk is a real pleasure.

Whether this is healthy - because of the free flowing air to the feet - or unhealthy - because of the exposure to random germs and stuff - is beside the point, really. It's just being alive.

Jokes or Games?

Speaking of naughty or nice, one can never be too sure what's a joke and what's not in the game world.

This game "Communist Monopoly" is a joke:
And it looks like the game Class Struggle is, too. But it has a BGG entry, and looks like it was produced by Avalon Hill.

And what about this game supposedly being created by China as an alternative to traditional Capitalist online games? (source)

Lastly, whether or not this game "Ball Buster" is a joke, surely the advertisement must be one:

Thursday, April 26, 2007

eBay Auctions Ending Sunday, April 29

During this one randomly selected day on eBay, around 10,000 auctions will end in the "Board, traditional games" section. Probably, it's a lot more; I'm not including games in other sections of eBay, roleplaying and lawn games, game books, and who knows what all.

Every day sees thousands of modern games, hundreds of Monopoly sets and ornate chess sets, dozens of adult games and Star Wars games from various decades, old games with strange themes, and vintage games of all kinds.

I could devote an entire blog just to the interesting things in these sections, not to mention auctions and sales on other sites. It would be a cool thing to do one of these as a daily post. If only I could quit my job and devote myself to blogging full time. Sigh...

By the way, these are not affiliate links, so I don't get any money if you click on the pictures. I should figure out how to do that.

A beautiful Cribbage board. Only, what are the dice for?

"Vintage Starfleet Bomber game". I'm not sure what the heck this is.
A Chutes and Ladders beach towel.
Tabletop Twister ... I don't know ...
The ever-popular game "How to be a complete bastard".
The World Educator and Quiz game. 1918.
Chartbuster, a game from 1970 about making pop records.
Sealed With a Kiss: the kiss collecting game for girls.
This looks like a precursor to Mille Bornes.
Looks like a really bad game, but what a great box cover.
And here's another.
One of a series of games in the '80s based on arcade classics.
The 50's, 60's, and 70's produced an astounding number of board games. To list them all would be impossible. Some of the things made into a board game are just amazing, however.
Like this one. Who the heck is George Gobel?
And this one, which combines new-fangled electronic kits with board games.
Subtitled "On The Road to Berlin". Made in the UK. One of thousands of board games made between wartimes that also served as propaganda.
Death Always Wins. A gothic game of Tic Tac Toe.
Scrabble tiles people building set. Toys and games frequently intermix.
Like here. A Mickey Mouse game with figures.
Another very old game, the Royal Game of Goose.
And another. Some of these vintage games are incredibly beautiful. A Peter Rabbit game from the 1950s.
You couldn't get away with a mainstream game called "Torture Track" today.
This is some sort of marijuana game from the early '70s. A game of pot-heads.
A favorite phrase from the descriptions: "I don't know the date, but it looks like it's from the [xxx0's], or even earlier!"
Comes with real clay pots, metal spatulas, and beans to scoop into the pots.
One of the many beautiful chess sets on offer. This one asking an optimistic $12,000.

Session Report, in which we play Vulkan by request

The latest Jerusalem Strategy Gaming Club session report is up here. Games played: Vulkan, Caylus, Die Macher, Carcassonne, San Juan, Tichu, Mau, Bridge.

We say goodbye to Josh and Idit, headed for Boston for a few years. They'll be looking for a game group there.

We play another half-game of Die Macher, but save the game for next time.

We play Vulkan at the request of the author, Heinrich Glumpler, and find it to be a better game than Feurio.

Zack falls in love with Mau.

Apples to Apples, Jewish edition

David K brought back A2A, Jewish edition, and says that it went over well. Given a choice between the two (he doesn't really like either game so much), he says the Jewish edition is definitely more enjoyable, as seeing the Yiddish/Hebraic words appear adds a little spice.

He also says that in both the regular and the Jewish editions, the people Apple cards are the ones nobody wants, unless they are so famous that they define certain adjectives (such as Einstein or George Bush). In short, nobody likes the less well-known people cards.

There are also a few cards whose explanatory print is extremely poor. (e.g. Poland is a country that lost three million Jews during the Holocaust. Lost?! Hmm... Now where did we put those Jews? I know they're around here, somewhere ...) As I said last time, I will be sending an email off to the publisher about these.

Game News

While others are reporting on the dull news about Hasbro's profits, I would just like to mention that Cranium is laying off 20% of its workforce, even though they're making profits. Sounds like another case of sticking it to the workers.

Here's a roll-up USB chess board that looks like it is useful in many ways. You can represent the chess game on the computer, and play it with physical pieces at the same time. (source)

Here's the IG Game, a new board game intended to help practice and pharmacy staff understand information governance .... zzzzzzz .... (source)

Mensa chose five new games as Mensa Select: Gemlok, Gheos, Hit or Miss, Qwirkle, and Skullduggery.

And the Guardian makes an unusual plea for more people to play games.


Wednesday, April 25, 2007

The Problem of Evil

Can there be a single answer as to why evil exists? Or, why bad things happen to good people?

So much depends on your preconceived principles of faith. I couldn't give the same answer to someone who doesn't believe in God as I could to someone who does. Furthermore, what is your conception of God? What are God's defining characteristics?


Atheists have no problem with this question, of course. Some smart-aleck once said that atheists have no problem with the existence of evil, only with the existence of everything else.

I'll let that go, for now.


Assuming that you believe in something God-like, then you still don't necessarily have a problem with the existence of evil if you believe in one of the following things:

1. God is not omnipotent.

Even if you believe in a single deity, you can believe that God is not omnipotent. In which case, you can assume that evil things can happen beyond God's control.

By the way, this is the answer given in the book "When Bad Things Happen to Good People", by Rabbi Harold Kushner.

2. God is not omniscient.

If you believe that God is omnipotent, you still may not believe that He is all-knowing. Perhaps bad things happen and the most He can do is react to them. Alternately, you may believe that God "wound the clock", so to speak, and then left, so that He doesn't have direct involvement in our worldly affairs.

3. God is not omni-benevolent.

Even if you believe the first two, evil is not a problem for those who do not believe in God's benevolence. I believe that that is the case for many people who suffer, or who view the terrible things that happen around the world.

If you do believe all these things, then you have to answer how an all-powerful, all-knowing, and good Being can let terrible suffering occur.

Explanations I Can't Accept

One explanation that I often hear is "because you've sinned". Rabbis and Preachers love that one. After all, it is hard to prove otherwise. No one can say that they're perfect.

I find this explanation to be pretty pathetic. First of all, you can simply look at thousands of people whose lives are roughly equal in virtue and see that the pain and pleasure allotted to each is wildly disproportionate. They can say that the sufferers must have sinned "in their heart", which is not only unprovable, but highly improbable.

In any case, if you're Christian or Jewish and believe in the Old Testament, you're completely contradicting the book of Job, whose entire premise is that bad things happen to good people, even when they haven't sinned. Job's three friends believe that he must have sinned, and both Job and God reject this.

Furthermore, a tremendous amount of suffering happens to babies and children, who cannot possibly have sinned before they were born.

The explanation given in Job is that God's ways are mysterious. He made the Earth and Heavens, and so it is not possible that you will ever really know the answer. While possibly true, to an extent, this explanation is not entirely satisfying.

Another explanation is that a person may have sinned in a past life. For this to make sense, you have to assume that suffering is not "correction" - i.e. used for instruction - but "absolution", in that it somehow cleanses the soul.

I find this a rather inefficient system. I can't see the point of having another life just to suffer for a previous one. Furthermore, the non-obviousness of this system is a stumbling block for human understanding. We have to make sense of it retroactively; otherwise, we couldn't hold our faith. But we only hold our faith because of this system. That's rather circular reasoning to me.

A similarly unsatisfying explanation is that the more suffering you undergo in this life, the less you will receive in "the world to come". This is another example of reasoning invented to explain what we cannot otherwise cope with.

Another explanation is that we suffer so that we are inspired to choose God as our savior. God is showing us what free will allows us, and why it's bad. Again, the number of babies and children who suffer without ever having the opportunity to do this, not to mention the suffering that occurs after choosing God, seems to preclude this as a possibility.

My understanding

Here are my thoughts.

In one of my wife's papers, she wrote about Emmanuel Levinas:
According to Levinas, it is "disappointment", the absence of God, which forces the individual to created a space within for God as Other. A separation, a distance is necessary. The individual is thus not enclosed in a totality which dissolves the self, but allows him to give himself over, turn towards the other, his fellow man. In other words, "ontological absence [of God, the Other] means ethical presence [for the other]".
Even better, Rachel once phrased this as: "ontological absence necessitates ethical presence".

Which means that God perforce gives humans something to do by absenting Himself, just a bit. Without evil to overcome, we are nothing but empty vessels.

Can an omni-benevolent God create evil and suffering? Yes, if by doing so even more good comes as a result: human compassion, human action, human striving.

Can this really explain a child born to twisted agony, destined for a short life of starvation in Africa? Or the Holocaust? By virtue of God's absence, we must act together to stop these things from happening. We have to invent the science to help the unborn, the economics to share the food, and the politics and militaries to stop the tragedies. We cannot rely on God to do this for us.

But an explanation is not an excuse. That's one of the points, I think. God's examples of prophets are Abraham, Job, Moses. These guys railed against, argued with, and condemned God. They wouldn't let God off the hook. And they took action.

If you don't like evil and suffering in the world, fight against it and, while doing so, condemn God for it. Bring God to task.

More on the subject of theodicy. And here's an entire blog devoted to the subject.


Update: Over shabbat I thought of one more important point to make on this issue.

I didn't really answer how my interpretation of why evil/suffering exists can explain a small child born into pain and suffering who leaves the world before cognition, something which the other explanations fail to address satisfactorily.

I don't have an answer for the pre-scientific world, but for today's world the answer is that we have failed the child, at least partially.

Where is the medicine and nutrition that didn't make it to the parents before the child was conceived? The screening before it grew in the womb? The surgeries and gene-splicing that could have cured the infant before it was born?

Our science and our social programs have a long way to go, in part because so much of our world's attention and resources go to other issues, such as war and other such nonsense. In a sense, war's cost can also be measured indirectly, by our inability to give our fellow humans the attention and solutions that they need.

I don't know if, suddenly, the world were to act in complete concert that we could solve all human suffering, but I bet we could make a big dent in it.


Tuesday, April 24, 2007

A Picnic and a Thought

We went out to Ariella's mechina in Ein Prat for a barbecue, which was pleasant.

Whenever I go out to the hills of Judea (the West Bank), I stare out from a hilltop onto hundreds and hundreds of completely empty hilltops. Close enough to all of these hills you can find water, if you dig deep enough.

And whenever I see this, I think: There's so much damn space. What the Hell are we fighting over? You live here, I'll live there. What's the difference?

Anyhoo ...

My friend Rachel and her daughter Dvira also live near Ein Prat, and they joined us on the picnic, so I played Set with her and also taught her how to play her game of Quiddler - and why letter-based card games are a complete waste of time. (Because, unlike rummy games with standard playing cards, it is fairly trivial to meld words with cards containing letters.)


Oh. And I finally got a call from Kindershpiel regarding helping them make the Hebrew/Israeli versions of Apples to Apples (one religious, and one secular). He's flying in to Israel next week and wants to meet me.

Independence Day Filler Post

My posting may be a little light again, owing to Independence Day plans, and the fact that I'm working on some longer posts again (including UK's copyright law).

Last night Rachel invited over a few of our synagogue members for some Israeli singing, a traditional Independence Day thing. All the songs are from around the founding of the state and sound like they're from Europe. Or they're in Yiddish.

But before the singing got started, our first visitors, which included Nadine and another neighbor who plays Scrabble, played Anagrams with me. Being the most experienced player, I made a good showing, but the Scrabble player did quite well, too. Tal also joined us.

Tal, Nadine and I also played Set a little later on.

Nadine is not too much into singing - she came over mostly because her teenagers had taken over her house - so she and I tried to hammer out the game design I'm working on. We tossed a few ideas around. Unfortunately, I found it hard to think with a chorus of singing going on in the next room, so I eventually gave up the idea. La la la.

Today I was rudely awaken early to complete a minyan at our shul. There's nothing more hellish than being around nine cheerful singing people in the morning when you haven't yet woken up, and you can't leave.

No more time now; must go to the holy barbecue.


Monday, April 23, 2007

Vote for My Blog / Customizable Games

Good day, gentle reader. My, you're looking well today. Such a nice outfit.

Oh, nothing special.

Well, if you must know, I'm nominated for a few JIB (Jewish and Israeli Blogger) Awards:
I'm also up for some "best post" awards, but voting on these won't be until next week.

I don't suppose you'd care to mosy on over and vote for me, would you? You would? Oh, that's just too kind.

But wait, there's more.

I'm also nominated for Blogger's Choice Awards:

Best Geek Blog
Best Hobby Blog

And you can even nominate me for more categories, if you like.

Why Do I Care?

That warm fuzzy feeling of knowing one's appreciated. Oh, yes, some exposure, traffic, more readers, and links, but that's really unimportant, of course.

Why Should You Care?

Giving me that warm fuzzy feeling, as a token of appreciation for what you receive here. But if you prefer instead to show your love with a donation, I'll understand; don't you worry about it. Just click the Donate button on the sidebar.

Customizable Games

I assume that most of you know about items such as Make Your Own Opoly, a Monopoly style board game where items are left blank for you to create your own spaces and so on. A similar product is Photo Opoly. Various companies exist that will do slick versions of this for you, such as Late for the Sky, USAopoly, or My Monopoly.

Other companies will personalize other generic board games, such as Family Funtime Games or a personalized Guess Who? game.

In addition, there are games that are specifically designed for personalization, such as FamilyLore, Our Wedding Game, and Christmas Gamesake.

There are, of course, many other examples. It would be great if better games, such as Settlers, Carcassonne, or Puerto Rico were as easily customizable. I know I'd want a copy.

While we're on the subject of customizing, did you know you can customize your own M&Ms or Hershey bars? And they're kosher, too.

Hey Aldie! How about some BGG.con M&Ms?

Game News

The first fifty results from a search of "board games" on Google still don't include this blog, but they do include a number of rather unusual results, like this compendium of "educational" board games. It lists over 100 simple and original games, which can undoubtedly be combined to make a few interesting ones.

This week is the yearly Board Game Conference sponsored by the Journal of Board Game Studies. This year's conference is in St. Pölten, Austria, Wednesday, April 25th to Saturday, April 28th, 2007. A lot of the talks are about Chess. None about modern Eurogames. If anyone in Austria would like to visit the conference and get these guys to play Settlers, you'll be doing your hobby a valuable service.


Sunday, April 22, 2007

The Same Thing Happens Every Kiddush

To paraphrase Bill Cosby, the same thing happens every kiddush ...

Boring Section, Skip to the Next One

Kiddush after synagogue services is a small affair, usually sponsored by a synagogue member on behalf of a recent bar-mitzvah, upcoming wedding, or the like. It serves mostly to provide for social community interaction among the synagogue members, something which is not (supposed to be) possible during the prayer service itself.

The affairs range from very modest - soft drinks, grape juice, plain cookies and some salty snacks on synagogue tables - to highly elaborate - fancy cakes, spirits, quiches and kugels, dips and so on, on catered linens with decorations, or even catered with staff.

In some synagogues, they disallow extravagant kiddush affairs so that those who are only able to throw more modest affairs are not made to feel embarrassed when they do so. In most communities, however, people simply give what they give and people don't look askance (overtly) at smaller affairs, although naturally the fancier ones are yummier. Even in these synagogues, however, anything overly pretentious would be discouraged.

In our synagogue, the eating takes place in the sanctuary. After the prayers are over, and the announcements made, the chairs are moved to the side and tables with food brought in. The food is first prepared in the kitchen, and the tables prepared with food in the little hallway outside the sanctuary.

The Set Up

The same thing happens every kiddush ...

After the torah portion is read, and before the speech, Ms M, Ms T, Ms O, Ms L, and Teen Daughter L leave the prayers to go prepare the food and lay out the tables.

In Jewish law, only men are required to pray with a congregation; therefore, those who hold strictly by this law are not able to leave the services in order to prepare the food. If the preparations were left until after the services, a slightly longer delay between the end of services and being able to eat would occur.

Therefore, these women take it upon themselves to leave the services and do the preparations so that the kiddush tables will be ready to bring in at the end of services. But not without some resentment.

Ms M will always complains, to whomever will listen, that it is outrageous, not to mention sexist, that the women always do all the kiddush preparation. Why can't the men help out? Sometimes she raises this issue at the board meetings; the men agree with her, but nothing ever changes.

Ms T, on the other hand, is happy that her husband has to stay and do the boring praying while she can be out talking with the women.

Everything done by Ms O is redone by Ms L who knows the right way to do everything. And Teen Daughter L is Ms L's daughter, and generally a saint.

The Hoverers

As items begin to be placed on the tables, the hoverers arrive.

The hoverers are mostly boys aged 8 to 14. They wander around the tables, pushing each other and pretending to grab big hands full of stuff to stuff in their mouths.

This goes on for some time, with the grabbing getting closer and closer to the food. Eventually, one boy picks up something and puts it back down. Then another one picks one up and pretends to put it in his mouth. Finally, one boy picks up something (a potato chip or a pickle) and eats it. The other boys start doing the same, until an adult yells at them to stop. The scene then repeats.

It is not helped by the 14 year old girl taking care of her 5 year old sister. The girl takes a few food items to give to the child, because, after all, she's just a child and can't be expected to stand near the tables and not eat. A few other five year old kids try to do the same for themselves.

Eventually, the boys start running around the tables until they knock over one of the bowls of chips or something. The boys get quiet as an adult yells at them. They look chagrined. After unsuccessfully trying to get one of the boys to clean it up properly, an adult sweeps up a bit. The boys remain quiet, until someone accidentally steps onto an unswept chip. Another boy then steps on a chip on purpose, and then the other boys all do the same until they are thrown out of the hallway.

They wander back in after a while and this scene repeats until services are over.

The Chair Stackers

At the end of services, the announcements are made, competing with the loud din of people milling around the tables in the hallway. The last announcement is that everyone is invited to the kiddush and could we all please stack the chairs on the side.

People begin talking and milling about. Some immediately step onto the small rug in the front of the room that one person is trying to roll up. Every few inches, he has to push someone off the rug who doesn't notice his efforts.

There are two types of chair stackers. The vast majority of them approach a row of six chairs as follows: stack the first chair onto the second chair. Stack both of those chairs onto the third chair. Absently note that it is too hard to lift three chairs. Wonder what to do next. Stack the fourth chair onto the fifth chair, and then both of those onto the sixth chair. Push the two piles of three chairs each to the side.

A small minority actually stack the fifth chair onto the sixth, the fourth chair onto these two, the third chair onto these three, and so on, leaving a single neat stack of six chairs. This only works if they manage to do this before turning around to find that a wrong-headed stacker has gotten to the first two or three chairs and then left.

The rest of the people artfully stand in the way of the table carriers.

The Table Carriers

The hoverers continue to hover as the tables are brought in, unless they are converted into table carriers. Children who are assigned to be carriers instantly change to responsible children. The same boys who were knocking bowls off the table now shoo away other children while carrying the tables, and even after they have put them down in the sanctuary.

About halfway in, someone realizes that they shouldn't have put bottles of drinks on the table before carrying them in to the sanctuary, but only after all of them have fallen onto the floor. These bottles are scooped up and placed again on the tables after the tables have been set down.

The Troublemakers

The room is very noisy, waiting for the Rabbi, or someone associated with the affair, to say the blessing over the wine. Everyone is supposed to wait for this blessing before taking any food.

The exception is that people are allowed to pour themselves a plastic shot glass full of grape juice or wine. Sometimes, the women have poured these already, and you only have to take one.

If you don't drink wine or grape juice, you can pour a shot glass of spirits. Can you pour a shot glass of cola? How about a cup of cola? Opinions vary.

Then there's the plates. Some people decide that it's ok to take a plate and fork so long as you don't take any food. Of course, once one person does this, everyone else starts doing it.

Half the people stand away from the tables, talking and waiting. For the other half, hands hover over the food, sometimes resting on the serving utensils. Children's hands hover like bulldozers over the potato chips and cookies. They mime how much they are going to shovel onto their plate as soon as the blessing is done. A few parent halfheartedly try to tell them not to do this.

A five year old starts taking food: half the cookies from one plate and chips. Someone tries to get her to put it back and she whines. Older kids see a little kid taking food and try to put one or two items on their plates, just to "get ready". They are scolded. When is the Rabbi going to "do kiddush" already?

Meanwhile, a seventy-year old man begins taking food onto his plate. He's seventy-years old already, damn it, and he's not going to wait for any dang blasted Rabbi to tell him when he can or can't eat. Parents who were just telling their kids to wait for the blessing stand around helplessly, unable to scold another adult, and now unable to explain why their kids should wait for the blessing when there are adults who don't.

The Blessing

Someone has to yell the first words over the din, which settles down to almost quiet by the time the person saying the blessing is around halfway through.

If it's the Rabbi doing it, he teases everyone by doing the words slowly, while the kids wait in agony to eat. If it's someone else, it will probably be a shortened version of the blessing.

Regardless, the kids start taking the food before the last few words of the blessing is uttered. Ms L grabs the hands of one child who took an entire bowl of potato chips and yells at him, while the other kids grab the chips he dropped.

Chips and cookies fall on the floor. Soda spills on the floor. Salty snacks go first, except for pretzels with sesame seeds. Colas go first, followed by strawberry-banana juice, and then the Sprite. Other sodas, such as orange, are barely touched. Chocolate chip cookies and cakes go first; nut cookies and jelly filled cookies are left over. Vegetables and dips are eaten slowly. A few fruits are eaten.

Kids with piled plates of cookies and chips run off to other rooms, where most of the food and chips will be later discovered, uneaten, soda cups spilled on floors and windowsills, down the stairs, and on the steps outside. It all eventually gets cleaned up by about five women and two men, one of whom is the one who threw the kiddush.

Most people talk to people they know; a few approach newcomers, if they are noticed. Some eat and leave, but most stay. For the majority that stay, they might hear a few words near the end of the kiddush, followed by the after-blessing. Otherwise, people make their own after-blessing.

The Upshot

Despite the children who lack discipline, and parents unwilling to give it, the kiddush works. People get a sense of community from it, and those who give the kiddush, and those who partake in it, are blessed.

A little more health consciousness would probably be a good thing, as would a little more helping out. But that is true for all people in all places, isn't it?